It's a loss; you know this. But we think on the aggregate last night's 75-71 loss to Akron saw more good than bad after an inconsistent OOC showing.
1. Smart's quick improvement is becoming unreal
One foul and nine points off of 4-6 shooting in this one. It's crazy to think that this is the same basketball player I saw before the exhibition game in October. My favorite part of this game was Ikenna slamming his fist into one of the court side tables after he picked up his only foul of the night. It's as if he expects nothing but perfection in that area and it's great to see that passion from him. Earlier in the season he looked a little lost on the court but he seems to be finding his role at the right time.
2. Couldn't get a grip on McAdams or defending the three in general
All night it seemed like the same #21 was raining threes. Often times he was left wide open for so long and if he had the ball at those points, his points total would've been a lot higher. The second half was bad in terms of perimeter defense as well. This can't happen if Buffalo wants to pick up some wins against quality MAC opponents. Central Michigan is coming soon and they're starting to get the three ball back.
3. The ball movement has been great, but the assists total wasn't.
The offense was reminiscent of the Delaware game but we just couldn't generate any assists. 12 assists is not a total I like at all, especially when you're running an uptempo offense that relies on moving the ball quickly. This isn't a hard problem to fix as we've seen it change in the quick course of a week. I would love to see a consistent total of 17-18 assists over the usual 12 and the occasional 20+.
Player of the Game: Ikenna "Plays" Smart
I just had this feeling in this game that whenever Smart was on the floor, we played much better. His shooting was just as efficient as the top performers on this team. I really look forward to seeing Ikenna as a senior and what he's capable of then.
I have a lot to say today. Apologies in advance.
1. Near-upset gives more hope than despair
Macro-level editorializing that I strive to keep out of the more cut-and-dry game recaps: despite what Hustle Belt was saying, this is a much better result for a Buffalo team so far in the middle of a crowded MAC pack than for an Akron group that seemed to stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the conference after OOC play, no matter what we might say about historical Zips struggles in Alumni Arena.
I used the language last night of an upset slipping away, but this showing from UB against what I thought has been the most impressive team in the conference tells me that I won't be calling any wins for the rest of the year 'upsets'. The Bulls won't be the frontrunners of the last two seasons, and have serious depth issues down low, but are still plenty good enough to beat any team in the conference with their best shot.
2. The formula for a team in transition is playing out to plan
Prior to last year's championship season, I said that I was willing to discount the OOC results if the new-look Bulls gelled into a strong team during MAC play. As we learned from Bobby Hurley's postseason comments on the halftime leads over Kentucky and Wisconsin, he had the same mindset. The range of possibilities for this year's group is perhaps wholesale shifted a bit lower, but the same principle stands: no MAC team (except *maybe* a 15-3 in-conference Akron) is getting an at-large bid, so little else matters.
Prior to this game I spoke of the Delaware game as promising, but not convincing. UB last night looked a lot like they did against Delaware. If that becomes the norm over the final 17 regular season games, then the formula has played out well. In stretches UB still makes poor decisions, shooting from outside too early in the shot clock or rushing an off-balance shot in the lane, but this is two in a row now that that type of thing hasn't been usual.
That said, the team still needs to get their first road win. This is not a particularly young group, even if it had a lot of new pieces at season's beginning.
3. Akron didn't go after UB's biggest weakness
This is one of two things holding me back from pure optimism at the moment: the Zips didn't really test UB down low as much as I thought they should. Blake Hamilton did a great job when called upon in the defensive post, but the Zips didn't work inside the arc much, taking just 27 attempts while shooting over 50% from two-point range. Perhaps it's because UB stayed out of foul trouble and they're that much better as a result, but it seemed odd to me.
For the record, the other of the two is UB's cold stretch late. I'll have to rewatch to see what exactly happened - perhaps Akron just made plays - but the Bulls let this one slip away with a five minute 1-7 stretch. To keep it close with points from the line was good enough to give themselves a chance, but even one more bucket in there changes the whole dynamic.
4. Quietly, the bench fell flat
Buffalo has gotten a ton of contributions from their bench this season. In a tight game throughout, that could have been the difference. CJ Massinburg scored just once in 22 minutes, and while I don't want to vilify Nick Perkins too much, whatever happened discipline-wise that saw him sit the first half may have cost the team the game. These things happen and don't define a career, but if I were Oats I would emphasize that you're plenty accountable to your team off the court, too.
The bench did pull down 17 rebounds after Akron held a big lead in that stat early.
5. Willie Conner did a little bit of everything
I don't love seeing Conner got 1-4 from three before the final minute, but he made the most of his offensive chances, scoring ten points from inside and the line. Add in seven rebounds, an assist, a steal, and no turnovers, and it seems like whatever clicked in December for the junior transfer is permanent.
6. Let's seriously consider finding a way to recreate the Bearden-Evans dynamic of last year
I've said it a bit in the comments, but I've been trying to get a piece written on the point guard situation for a few weeks now. I think UB would be best served with a two-headed option as they had last year with Shannon Evans and Lamonte Bearden. Bearden had five more turnovers last night and has not been the same player as in 2014-15, while Blake Hamilton and Massinburg have both impressed me with their distribution and floor vision so far. Since Jarryn Skeete also has a bit of experience running the point, Oats has plenty of options and flexibility in his lineup construction. I'd love to see what UB could do with Bearden as an off-ball, catch and drive threat as a change of pace.
Player of the Game: Blake Hamilton
I think this is a blowout loss without Hamilton, who returned from a concussion to go 7-13 from the floor, pile up 4 rebounds and 3 assists, and at times play strong defense down low against players much bigger and longer than his 6-6 frame. For all the returning players and surprising improvements from last year's team, as he and Conner go, so go the Bulls.